Rewilding at Sharpham

Restoring an ancient landscape

More than 200 years ago, naval captain Phillamon Pownell created his vision of the English countryside here at Sharpham.  He was building on foundations laid in the Great Ice Age, when the glaciers of Dartmoor began their retreat and the trickling river that meandered across this wooded valley transformed into the tidal estuary we see today.

For generations, this ancient landscape was filled with rich wildlife, diverse species and established habitats.  

Yet the unrelenting drive for progress and the industrialisation of agriculture has altered our countryside immeasurably. 

Rewilding encourages nature to thrive again.  This ecological restoration allows natural processes to shape the land once more.  It results in abundant biodiversity, the regrowth of habitats and ecosystems and restores the historic value of our valley.

Managing the land in this way accepts that nature requires minimal human intervention and allows us to reprioritise and reconnect with the world around us.

In an age of mass extinction and global climate change, it’s a vital step towards reversing the damage our planet has already suffered.

Wild Sharpham: an Ambios rewilding project

Ambios have been tenants at Sharpham since 2012 and manage the land as a not-for-profit nature conservation training organisation .  In April 2020, we took on an additional 50 acres of agricultural land within the Estate with the vision of rewilding this 18th century parkland.

This new venture gives us an opportunity to not only do right by the land, but to share the process with a rich and diverse audience – a core motivation of Ambios and our partners, The Sharpham Trust.  

Our social enterprise approach means we welcome people to join us as we work to restore this land, sharing best practice, countryside education and core land management skills.  These experiences remind us that we are part of nature and re-root us in our place in the world.

Our intentions for Sharpham

We have two complementary strategies for restoring this part of the Estate.  In 2020, the Sharpham Trust secured a Heritage Lottery Fund grant for developing rewilding education and outreach programmes resulting in the Sharpham Wild for People project.  Then in 2021, we entered into a 5 year Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship agreement which supports us in the recovery of the countryside for future generations.  

This work sees us:

  • echo some of the elements of the historic parkland and a naturalistic landscape
  • make more space for wildlife and take action for nature
  • assist in turning the Sharpham Estate organic
  • re-wild parts of our historic landscape
  • help more people engage with nature here

We’re doing this by:

  • reducing grazing with a diversified range of animals who mimic natural grazing, encouraging enrichment of vegetation
  • planting new native trees in great numbers to restore the 19th century parkland
  • ecological monitoring of birds, bats, mammals, reptiles, butterflies, earthworms and soil chemistry to demonstrate the ecological benefits of rewilding
  • Offer volunteer opportunities, traineeships, walks and talks and visits for school groups to engage with our work

The future

Our project is just beginning – the benefits of the rewilding process should continue for generations.  

We have a vision to rewild the River Dart valley, in partnership with our local neighbours and landowners, to restore missing wildlife and habitats to this landscape.  In the meantime, there’s so much more we plan to do, with the support of our trainees and volunteers, starting with:

  • Introducing rare breed cows, hardy ponies and periodically pigs, to diversify grazing impact and encourage beneficial ground and tree disturbance
  • Retaining trees, scrub and hedges including dead wood and trees
  • Green haying and seed spreading from adjacent species-rich areas of grassland
  • Locating land drains then in-filling to promote natural ground water conditions
  • Continuing and diversifying ecological monitoring
  • Developing interpretation resources and a range of publicly accessible online educational materials

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